Mathieu Desan “Realist and Historicist Modes of Critique in Critical Sociology”

Blumer Room - 402 Social Sciences Building
Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology is often described as a “critical sociology,” but there are two distinct modes of critique present in his work. At times he engages in what I call the realist mode of critique, which is premised on the idea that our naïve experience of the social world dissimulates real relations of domination, which critique then reveals. At other times, Bourdieu engages in what I call the historicist mode of critique, which denaturalizes the doxic experience of the social order by demonstrating its arbitrary character. Whereas realist critique claims the social world really is other than it appears, historicist critique suggests that it could be otherwise. Though these two modes of critique co-exist with some tension in Bourdieu’s work, I argue that this tension is not unique to Bourdieu, but rather something that has structured interpretive debates in other critical social scientific traditions, such as the Polanyian and Marxist literatures. This suggests a general ambiguity in what it means to do critical social science.